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Admissions    by Nancy Lieberman order for
by Nancy Lieberman
Order:  USA  Can
Warner, 2004 (2004)

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* * *   Reviewed by Shannon Bigham

Nancy Lieberman concocts an entertaining and thought-provoking look at private grade schools and high schools in Manhattan. While this aptly titled novel is a work of fiction, it seems likely that it mirrors the 'blood sport' in which Manhattan families participate when they experience the admissions process for competitive private schools. Deals are made, extravagant gifts are thrown at directors, and groveling is commonplace as wealthy families apply every strategy known to mankind in order to get their child admitted to a 'school of choice'.

Fourteen-year-old Zoe Drager is graduating from 'The School', a K-8 private school in Manhattan. The next step is for Helen and Michael Drager, Zoe's parents, to help her obtain admission into one of Manhattan's elite private high schools. In addition to her career as an art critic, Helen volunteers extensively at The School and is friendly with Sara, an admissions officer there. Helen hopes that her connections will assist Zoe to get into a private high school. While Sara is eager to help Helen as much as possible, she has limited clout and most parents, including Helen, have to rely on Pamela, 'The Head of The School,' for appropriate guidance, letters of recommendations, and to 'put in a good word' for their child.

As Zoe's applications begin to schools with tongue in cheek names ('The Fancy Girls' School', 'The Progressive School', 'The Quasi Country Day School', 'The Very Brainy Girls' School' and 'The Downtown School'), it becomes apparent that Helen's connections and Zoe's amiable, intelligent nature will not be enough to obtain the child's admission into a desirable school. Helen leaps into action and hires 'The Tutor' who is allegedly renowned for helping children score highly on admissions entrance exams (and who charges an exorbitant fee). Zoe and her parents begin touring schools. While they are no strangers to private schools, having spent twenty thousand per year on Zoe's education to date, they are often shocked by the excess and snobbery seen at the high schools.

When Pamela makes it clear that she is in her position for her own self-interest, and not to help Zoe or the other eighth grade students with admissions, Helen and Michael have to raise the bar on their own efforts. Michael, a producer for a television channel that airs cooking shows, feels pressured to use his career to increase Zoe's admission chances at 'The Fancy Girls' School', whose director pines for her own cooking tv show. Meanwhile, Helen continues to plod through the grunt work required for the applications, groveling where necessary. The result is one stressed out teenager and two exhausted, frustrated parents who start to wonder if they will need to donate the worth of a small nation to secure Zoe's high school education.

This novel takes a highly readable, entertaining look at the insanity of Manhattan's private schools and the desperate lengths that parents will go to during admissions. Helen, Michael and Zoe are likeable characters and one cannot help but feel for them as they undergo such a gut-wrenching process. Subplots, that include Zoe's first crush and Helen and Michael's evolving marriage, add zest to the plot. Admissions is a unique book, highly recommended as an entertaining, satirical yet insightful read that will keep readers amused and enthralled to its satisfying conclusion.

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